Category Archives: GoodIdeas
Chapter 7: Platforms of Steven Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From covered such a broad range of topics – almost too many – that exemplify how inventions and ideas get their start through networks, open-sourcing, and tapping into knowledge bases outside of any one particular profession. (The stories of how GPS was invented, Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue” album, and Twitter were fascinating.)
One quote really stood out to me:
“Call it cooperative advantage. The burden of coming up with good ideas for the product is no longer shouldered exclusively by the company itself. On an open platform, good ideas can come from anywhere.” (Location 2224)
For educators, the first thing I think of is how to harness and disseminate the great ideas created on a daily basis by teachers in their individual classrooms. In classrooms around the world, teachers are creating new ways to reach struggling students, new tools to teach difficult concepts, and new methods of assessing on the fly to better target their instruction. Those who are able Tweet or blog have an additional advantage of being a contributor and learner of a larger network.
I think of the success stories of teachers such as Bergmann & Sams’ Flipped Classroom or Lindsay and Davis’ Flat Classroom Project or Karl Fisch’s Shift Happens presentation. In all of these cases, without the broadcasting power of social networks and education publications, it is likely that these projects would have lived a shorter life within a very small circle of people. Yet because these educators in particular knew how to use modern tools to create a “cooperative advantage,” their ideas were shared, built upon, and helped thousands of other educators rethink how they were teaching.
Questions for reflection:
- How are teachers at your school or in your district currently sharing good ideas with others?
- How much are educators in your organization a part of a broader network of learning? If your answer is “limited,” what are the barriers? How can you convince educators, IT, board members, etc. the power of sharing knowledge outside of the organization?
I will post one last thought on this book after reading the Conclusion. It has been an eye-opening read!
Chapter Six: Exaptation of Steven Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From looks at how, both biologically and in human invention, new ideas are often modified, tinkered old ideas. In evolutionary terms, birds’ feathers are an exaptation of what initially served to keep the animal warm. In human invention terms, many new ideas are modified from a previous and well-known invention (e.g. Guttenberg’s printing press from a wine press, Babbage’s computer punch cards from Jacquard’s weaving punch cards).
Many of the inventors in Johnson’s examples had the commonality of areas of interest outside of their chosen profession that complemented and expanded their thinking. I’ve always felt a twinge of guilt at having interests outside of education, with my inner voice sometimes chiding, “if you were really serious about education, you wouldn’t spend so much time decorating, learning new cooking techniques, collecting American silver, golfing….”
I dismissed that voice by justifying that people need “off” time for good mental health, but I had not considered the perspective of needing these hobbies to inform my chosen profession. I’m still struggling with this idea.
Questions for Reflection:
- Can you think of a time when one of your interests outside of education informed or inspired your work in education?
- In the workplace, how can we make each other aware of these outside interests to encourage creative discussions and collaboration?
Chapter 5: Error of Steven Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From told story after story of how some of our greatest inventions and discoveries were a direct result of a mistake (e.g. vulcanized rubber, penicillin). While I understand that we, especially in the field of education, are trying our hardest to STOP making and repeating mistakes that negatively impact learning, I also think it’s a mistake to put teachers into such a sterile, lock-step environment that there is no room for innovation. Two quotes from this chapter get at the heart, I think, of the message:
“Innovative environments thrive on useful mistakes, and suffer when the demands of quality control overwhelm them.” (Location 1689)
“Big organizations like to follow perfectionist regimes like Six Sigma and Total Quality Management, entire systems devoted to eliminating error from the conference room or the assembly line, but it’s no accident that one of the mantras of the Web startup world is fail faster.” (Location 1690) (Italics and bold are my own.)
My questions for reflection:
- How do we incorporate unprecedented access to data, research, and information to improve education while still allowing dedicated, connected, passionate teachers the flexibility to discover what works for their students?
- How do we allow educational leaders the freedom to “fail faster” in safe, but informative and reflective environments so that they can eventually arrive at the right solutions?
Chapter Four: Serendipity of Steven Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From really got into how organizations can create environments that maximize the potential for “ah-ha” moments. This chapter gave me several ideas that I would love to explore at a future gathering with colleagues. While the author described several ways of encouraging serendipity, my biggest take-aways were:
- Take a walk. Sitting at a desk isn’t always the most inspiring setting. When looking for solutions or new ideas, take a walk, breathe fresh air, relax your brain…this is often when inspiration can hit.
- Create a system for cultivating articles, quotes, etc. that you find interesting. Learn to tag them for ease in aggregating them later. I use Google Reader, Diigo, and Pinterest for these purposes. Many people I know use Evernote.
- Create opportunities for serendipitous learning: read things outside your profession. Find ways that force you to stumble upon stories or information that you might not have otherwise. I love this one simple quote around this idea: “Filters reduce serendipity.” (Location1352) In other words, if I only read ed tech blogs, follow ed tech Tweeters, and read ed tech books, my vision is going to be very limited. I need to find ways out of the echo chamber.
- Create a “hunch database” where employees can peruse ideas of co-workers and add their own. I find this idea most intriguing, yet most challenging for implementing. We have a paper-based model of this in our break room, but that isn’t visited as often as we would hope. What would be an effective, efficient hunch-database for our employees?
Perhaps I need to take a walk…
Chapter Three: The Slow Hunch of Steven Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From started with a sobering look at clues and indicators we had that could have led authorities to stopping 9/11, but several human tendencies and lack of modern tools (or at least the lack of using them) resulted in the events that are now our history on that fateful day.
As I read this chapter, I kept thinking of its similarity to the concept of “weak signals” that we use in our futures work and scenario planning. The idea is that, with 20/20 hindsight, we are often incredulous that we didn’t anticipate a monumental change or trend that was about to happen given the multitude of small, weak indicators that pointed in the future’s direction. The trick in futures studies, of course, is to teach yourself to not dismiss seemingly insignificant changes in data, trends, growth, or decline as these often are small waves preceding a huge change.
Johnson told two anecdotes in this chapter that showed how some of our greatest minds (Darwin, Locke) counteracted the tendency to ignore weak signals by writing everything down (Italics are my own) in a “commonplace book.” He also described Locke’s elaborate method of indexing his entries so that he could find and aggregate ideas later. I couldn’t help but to draw similarities between Locke’s Industrial Age method and the tools we have now that allow us to blog, Tweet, and tag information for future study.
How is your organization capturing, storing, and tagging current weak signals? Are you able to discern trends and slow hunches that can point you in the right direction for the future?
I just finished Chapter 2: Liquid Networks of Steven Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From. In this chapter, he likens environments to the three states of matter for water. In environments that are too chaotic (like a gas) or too rigid (like ice), people have a difficult time connecting, brainstorming, and maintaining focus on the subject at hand. A perfect environment is more like water, where there is flexibility to exchange ideas while zeroing in on a primary focus.
My favorite quotes come from when Johnson is describing a study done in 1964 by Arthur Koestler, looking at the conditions that were present when scientists made the most breakthroughs:
“…most important ideas emerged during regular lab meetings, where a dozen or so researchers would gather and informally present and discuss their latest work.” (Location 704)
“…the ground zero of innovation was not the microscope. It was the conference table.” (Location 706)
While we have many meeting rooms, common areas, and even a dedicated “collaboration room” in our workplace, I think our biggest challenge to creating this type of working environment is the fact that, especially within my department, many of us are on the road for weeks at a time. While those weeks are energizing, fast-paced days when we are on site with educators, there is a tendency to feel very isolated after the day sitting alone in your hotel room. Times when we come together in our office building often must be planned months in advance. My question for my current work:
How do we create “Liquid Networks” so that even though we are physically isolated, we have a place for informal conversations where we can bounce ideas off of one another? We certainly have the technology (Google Hangout, Skype, Facebook, Twitter), but how do we create this virtual space without people feeling obligated to log in after a long day’s work?
Other folks who travel or often who work away from your building…do you have ideas that have worked?